Nature-friendly farming is the subject of a series of short films showcasing how farmers in the South Downs of England are supporting endangered species, such as the grey partridge, and restoring priority habitats, including species rich chalk grassland.
The initiative, supported by the South Downs National Park Authority, showcases the work of seven farmers from the Eastern South Downs Farmers Group, which covers over 130 square miles of the Downs between Shoreham-by-Sea and Eastbourne.
Annie Brown, of Lower Paythorne and Perching Manor Farms, near Fulking, who is lead farmer for the Eastern South Downs Farmers Group, said: “Never has there been a more important time for farmers along the South Downs to tell the visiting public about their role as custodians of our iconic landscape. The farmers in our Cluster Group are all passionate about producing food in a good and sustainable way while making space for nature.”
Meet the Farmer plaques have been placed along the South Downs Way in West and East Sussex, as part of a new watch and listen trail, giving people a unique insight into farming life on the South Downs. Visitors can simply hold a phone over the plaque, or read the QR code, to reveal the film introducing the farmer responsible for caring for that stretch of land.
The films include drone footage of the South Downs and close-up wildlife shots. Among the farmers featured is Ben Taylor, who manages the Iford Estate near Lewes.
Ben Taylor, who trained as a chemist before going into farming, spoke of the amazing turnaround on his land, where the creation of new wildlife habitats has seen bird biodiversity flourish from just a handful of species to well over 100.
He said: “This land has been farmed for thousands of years since Neolithic times, so farming has made the landscape.
“We’ve achieved profitable farming in the 21st century and it’s allowed us to also provide valuable new wildlife habitats. I really enjoy seeing how farming and conservation can sit neatly side by side. We can look after the environment and, at the same time, produce food for people.”
“As you walk along the South Downs you can hear the birds singing. This is such an important migratory point for birds that are coming from the north of England or from further afield and crossing towards Europe. They come here because they have places where they can feed, places to rest and refuel. Ten years ago we didn’t have a great deal of birds, but we’ve now got 140 different species on the farm, and 35 are red-listed because they are so rare. It’s because of the environment they find that they are here.”
The Meet the Farmer series can also be viewed on the South Downs National Park’s YouTube page
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com